The Worst Beer in the Union

Alex Fossi, June 27, 2013

I expect most visitors to our leaderboards come to look at the best. A first-time viewer will want to find out what’s #1 overall, then perhaps they’ll isolate their favorite style, or maybe see what the top-rated beers from their home state are. Me, I did the opposite -- the very first thing I did was to click to the end to see what was the worst.

I did not do this because I have any interest in purchasing the beers at the bottom of our leaderboards. No, I did this because looking at the top 25 is, quite frankly, a source of frustration. It’s a list of really, really good beers. More specifically, it’s a list of really, really good beers that I do not have in front of me right now. Moreover, I won’t be getting most of them anytime soon. Obtaining Westvleteren 12, for example, would require me to reserve a case at least 60 days in advance and fly to Belgium, which poses issues both financial and logistical.

Therefore, I find that I derive more immediate pleasure from examining the very worst beers on our leaderboards. Rhinelander’s Boatswain Double IPA comes in last, ranking #5927 of 5927. It scores at -9.39 BAR, which means that relative to a replacement-level beer, it is as bad as Lagunitas’ best beer is good. Boatswain Double IPA is the Bill Bergen of beers. Wisconsinites might be well served to seek other options.

This got me wondering what state produces the worst beer selection. Boatswain might be the single worst beer on our list, but it’s not like one would suffer just from proximity to it. What seems more important is how bad the best beer from a state is. If you take a look through the leaderboards, you’ll find that there are 13 states that have no beers in our top 500 (Arizona just barely clears that bar, with Four Peaks Double Knot coming in at #500 exactly). Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming, come on down!

Now, three of these have zero beers on our leaderboards -- Arkansas, North Dakota, and West Virginia. While there are breweries in all three states, none of them have enough checkins on Untappd for us to have a concrete idea of how their beers are. Get drinking, guys! The rest all have at least one beer on the leaderboards. Here’s a list of those states ordered by the ranking of their best beer:

  • Alaska: Anchorage Brewing Co., Love Buzz, #631

  • Louisiana: Abita Brewing Co., Strawberry Harvest Lager, #638

  • Kansas: Tallgrass Brewing Co., Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat, #806

  • Kentucky: West Sixth Brewing, IPA, #807

  • New Hampshire: Tuckerman Brewing Co., Pale Ale, #817

  • Nebraska: Nebraska Brewing Co., Cardinal Pale Ale, #855

  • Hawaii: Hawai’i Nui Brewing, Hapa Brown Ale, #1136

  • Tennessee: Yazoo Brewing Co., Hefeweizen, #1352

  • Wyoming: Snake River Brewing Co., Pako’s IPA, #1589

  • South Dakota: Crow Peak Brewing Co., 11th Hour IPA, #1916


What can we take from this? It’s probably not safe to make sweeping conclusions based on this; after all, it’s entirely possible that as I type this, some master brewer in Wyoming is putting the final touches on a magnificent top-25 beer. For all we know, he already has, and it just hasn’t gotten enough ratings to crack our leaderboards.

If we did want to make unfounded statements based on the limited data we have, we could say that you don’t want to live in a Dakota (I’m not sure we really needed to examine beer data to reach that conclusion, really). You probably wouldn’t want to live in Hawaii either, since it doesn’t produce great beer and doesn’t get all that many imports from the mainland (though I hear that there are some redeeming factors).  

Clearly, larger states have a leg up here, as more people means more breweries and more beers, which translates into more chances to produce a highly rated offering. As such, it’s a little surprising that Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee haven’t created anything better. Massachusetts and Tennessee have about the same population, but Massachusetts has nineteen beers that are better rated than Tennessee’s best offering. A disappointing showing, to say the least. At least they beat Wyoming, I guess.

Now, I wouldn’t want those of you from a less fortunate state, beerly speaking, to feel lost and alone. In the spirit of mutual suffering, I obtained the worst beer on our list that I could find: Henry Weinhard’s Woodland Pass IPA, which comes in at #5918 with a BAR of -5.45.

My expectations were naturally quite low, and yet somehow I was still disappointed. It looks like an IPA, and it smelled somewhat like the ingredients of a beer -- certainly, there are hops and malts involved somehow, though judging from the mustiness, they may have been left in someone’s grandparent’s attic for some time before being used. It tasted like sweet grains and sadness. I’m not entirely certain what the legal requirements are to label something an “IPA,” but if this qualifies I think they need to be tightened up a bit. Adding hops to a malt liquor-ish substance does not an IPA make. I think I’d generally prefer a Coors Light to this -- at least with Coors, there’s no pretense.